A SERIES of meetings in Western Queensland with shire leaders, local business owners, community members and property visits around Longreach and Winton has highlighted the impact of prolonged extreme drought.
Key issue was the loss of cashflow across the entire community, job losses, loss of families, loss of services, and effectiveness of current drought relief/support measures provided by both the state and federal government.
Apart from the very obvious need for immediate drought-breaking widespread rains, the biggest issues for local graziers included the fear of Labor’s promise to bring back tough restrictions on vegetation management.
The meetings and visits were part of two-day listening tour of droughted western Queensland by LNP opposition agricultural spokesman Tony Perrett and local Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar.
Meeting with the Western Queensland Drought Appeal, Treasurer Reverend Jenny Coombes said the appeal had distributed nearly $1 million in debit cards to 1300 recipients across 18 drought-hit shires.
Drought committee chair David Phelps said it was difficult to maintain public interest in the drought over six years and more.
Dr Phelps noted local businesses were suffering a downturn in takings of as much as 60 per cent.
Jobs were lost, families left as starkly revealed by four schools in Longreach Shire now having 500 fewer students since the start of the drought.
Longreach mayor Ed Warren and councillor Trevor Smith, were upbeat about the town's long-term prospects despite the long dry. Tourism growth and the potential for a regional livestock spelling and selling complex were both opportunities, they said.
No cattle means no work, no jobs.
Winton mayor Gavin Baskett summarised the situation saying the drought means no cattle.
“No cattle means no work, no jobs. We need to make sure we don’t lose any government services.”
Winton shire continued to work with graziers to minimise the impact of wild dogs with regular (twice-yearly) baiting programs and was watching with interest progress with cluster fence programs to the east and south. However, the channels across much of the Winton country made fence erection and on-going much more of an issue than in other districts that were embracing clusters.
Winton Shire Council was focussing on tourism and opportunities with location film shoots to diversify the local economy to build resilience through sustainable job development.
With the shire being the largest employer and grants for local roads and other infrastructure vital, the need for longer term, four-year funding terms would add further stability to the shire’s works program.
Both Mr Perrett and Mr Millar agreed that current state drought assistance was primarily about animal welfare - through fodder and livestock freight subsidies and payments for emergency water infrastructure.
With little to no cashflow, graziers we’re still having to meet fixed costs, including rising electricity bills, land lease and rates, and soaring vehicle registration costs - as highlighted by a local Winton transport company.
“We both got the message that graziers and local businesses need more targeted and immediate support - such as rate and power bill relief funded through state government to keep families on the land and local businesses going.”
Addressing well-attended meetings at both Winton and Longreach, Mr Millar said he would continue to press the Palaszczuk government for the return of cattle train services, discontinued since October due to flimsy, Chinese-made crates falling apart.
“I’m very eager to hear from the transport minister (Mark Bailey) about what’s going on with repairs and the return of these vital services that are supposed to be guaranteed by the government.”
As well, Mr Millar said he’d continued to fight for fairer airfares for regional Queenslanders - and particularly for regulated routes run by QantasLink.
He called on all residents to voice their concerns over airfare ripoffs to the recently established federal Senate inquiry into regional airfares.
Mr Millar said as opposition emergency services and volunteers spokesman said he would be taking up the issue of mandatory training for SES volunteers and auxilliary firefighters to be required to spend up to two weeks away from home. This was very difficult for anyone trying to run a small business or a property and deal with drought, he said.
As raised by Cr Baskett, training previously comprised of two-day modules that were delivered by trainers who traveled to local centres including Winton.